Memories of Hayden — where we were separate but equal

Published 9:08 am Wednesday, February 11, 2009

God loves all of his children. He sent Mrs. Della Hayden — one of his very special people — to Franklin to establish a rich educational legacy that endures to this day.

I have very fond memories of my seven years at Hayden Elementary. On the south side of the building nearest Oak Street is the location of my first-grade classroom. Miss Shepard was my teacher.

Miss Shepard’s class was where I got my first kiss from a girl. She sat behind me and shall remain nameless — lest she be perceived as a brazen 6-year-old trollop. I don’t know whether Miss Shepard saw her kiss me or not — nor did I care. I was “in love.”

I also had a crush on Miss Shepard. She was dark-skinned with smooth, flawless skin, long hair and high cheek bones. She was pretty enough to be a model. When I was in the fifth grade, she married Mr. Sykes — crushing any hopes I held that she would “wait for me!”

My second-grade teacher was Mrs. Pankey. She was always impeccably, stylishly dressed and wore a lot of makeup.

Mrs. King was my third-grade teacher. She was older — a few years from retirement and very no-nonsense. “Acting up” in Mrs. King’s classroom was out of the question.

Mrs. Myrick, who lived on the corner of South and Wilson streets, was my fourth- grade teacher. Her classroom was in the building next to Cemetery Street, since renamed Hayden Drive.

The highlight of my year in Mrs. Myrick’s classroom was when she let the whole class — two at a time — sit in the reclining seats of her brand-new 1954 Nash Rambler.

On one of our “field trips” down to the creek at the end of the campus, Mrs. Myrick let us bring back a turtle one of the students had picked up. Instead of putting it in an aquarium, the turtle — “Bubbles” — had the run of the classroom. At the end of the term we released it back into the creek. Mrs. Myrick taught us how to have compassion for God’s creatures.

Today, if a teacher tried letting a wild animal roam around in the classroom, she would have PETA and the ASPCA picketing the school — she was lucky enough to secure a permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

My fifth-grade teacher was Mrs. Banks, who lived on Oak Street — a stone’s throw from the school. I was one of her favorite students. (I think the term is “teacher’s pet.”) She used to get me to cut her grass in the summer and do other chores for her.

In the sixth grade I had Mrs. Sadie Doles Whyce, who lived near Ivor. In those days the classes used to collect dues for an annual class party. Mrs. Whyce had ours at her farm. If I remember correctly, she and her husband also ran a small country store.

If a teacher tried that today he or she would be hauled before the school board for “profiteering off the students and conflict of interest.”

In the seventh grade I had Mrs. Riddick. Her classroom was in the pre-fab steel building just south of the two brick buildings. In the warm months — with no air conditioning, even with the windows wide open — being inside that steel box was like being in a sauna. Today, the Apostolic Faith Church of God sits on that spot.

Mrs. Riddick was very petite and an excellent teacher. I remember her very challenging class work. She was rigorously preparing us for the eighth grade and the move up the hill to our brand new Hayden High School. There was no middle school in that era.

Except for Mrs. Whyce, all of my teachers lived in the neighborhood. I often saw them around town, sometimes while with either of my parents, adding another layer of accountability.

“How is my boy doing in your class,” my parents would invariably ask.

“He is no trouble at all and does his work,” was a typical reply.

In the “old days” — there was more parental involvement in PTA and other school activities. There were also more nuclear families. Our teachers knew that “parents had their backs” in holding disruptive students accountable. Segregation fostered a sense of self-reliance, cohesiveness and a “we are all in the same boat — let’s look out for each other” attitude among many blacks.

Today, students are hindered in their learning with more disruption in the classroom while contending with gangs, racial tension, offers to get high off street drugs and, in many cases, a lack of parental support.

In hindsight, considering the overall diminution of black student achievement in Franklin’s schools and the diminished involvement of many black parents in their children’s educations, the “bad old days” of segregation — “separate but equal” — weren’t so bad after all.

Thank you, Mrs. Della Hayden.